The film industry has made countless movies about PTSD because the subject matter affects so many people. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after surviving or witnessing a real or perceived traumatic event. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 6 percent of the population will struggle with PTSD at some point in their lifetime. It’s not just soldiers returning from combat who experience PTSD. Experts have long understood that anyone who has witnessed or survived a serious traumatic event, like a violent car accident, the loss of a loved one, domestic violence, and even physical or sexual abuse can develop significant life problems as a result of the trauma and associated symptoms. In order to raise awareness about this treatable medical condition, June is recognized as PTSD Awareness Month, so it’s an appropriate time to examine some movies about PTSD.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
Unfortunately, experiencing trauma is a common occurrence in life for many of us. Not everyone develops PTSD, and some of those who do may recover in a short time if it doesn’t progress. Still, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that around 12 million people struggle with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in any given year. Left untreated or undiagnosed, PTSD can cause serious problems for a person, as well as disrupt the lives of family and friends, especially those who love and care for them the most. In about half the cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, people also develop a substance use disorder. This is usually the result of self-medicating their symptoms with drugs and or alcohol. Some other common symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Avoiding discussions of the traumatic event, as well as people, places, or activities that remind a person of past trauma
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and others
- Unwanted memories of trauma, nightmares, and flashbacks
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating and experiencing sudden mood swings
- Overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt, or hopelessness
- Depression, anxiety, or feelings of worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts, ideations, or even attempts
- Self-medicating with prescription or illegal drugs, or drinking alcohol to excess
It’s important for people to understand that PTSD is a treatable condition. In some cases of substance use, treatment for a dual diagnosis condition may be necessary for a full and lasting recovery. Many people have dealt with serious past trauma, including celebrities with PTSD, but it’s possible for nearly everyone to overcome the pain and live a healthier life with proper treatment. Because of the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s not surprising there have been so many Hollywood films about PTSD made over the years.
Here are 9 Movies About PTSD
1. American Sniper (2014)
Based on the true story of Chris Kyle, one of the most successful and deadliest marksmen in the history of the NAVY Seals, American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on Kyle’s homecoming after his final tour of duty. The film features an outstanding performance by Bradley Cooper, who plays Chris Kyle, as he struggles to live with the memories of the people he killed in the line of duty.
2. The Deer Hunter (1978)
With five Academy Awards, The Deer Hunter is a Vietnam War era epic, starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, and chronicles the lives of three soldiers captured and held as prisoners of war. Though the men manage to escape, they are separated and experience much different lives as the story unfolds after they return home.
3. Born On The Fourth of July (1989)
Born On The Fourth of July stars Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic, a teenager at the outset of the 60’s era film who sees it as his duty to enlist in the Marines and serve in the Vietnam War. During a retreat amid his second tour, Kovic accidentally kills a fellow soldier and then is later paralyzed in battle. Much of the film, though, follows Kovic as he returns home to a politically torn country, an uncaring VA, and a family that doesn’t understand his struggles with PTSD.
4. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Jeremy Renner stars as Sgt. William James, an explosives expert tasked with defusing bombs during the Iraq War, in The Hurt Locker. While James appears to thrive on the deadly risks he’s forced to take as part of his job, he has little patience for, or ability to lead a quiet, normal life with his wife and child back home in the U.S. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this film won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Actor.
5. The Hunger Games (2012)
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games tells the story of teenage boys and girls in a post-apocalyptic world who are chosen and forced to fight to the death in an annual event that is televised for the masses. The winner of the games are temporarily able to better their lives and their communities, though the struggle to deal with the violence of the games and the ongoing chaos of their world only adds to their past trauma.
6. Brothers (2009)
Brothers is a movie about PTSD that stars Tobey Maguire as Sam Cahill, who serves his country in the Marines. His brother Tommy, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a drifter recently released from prison. After Sam is shot down in Afghanistan and presumed dead, Tommy vows to take care of his brother’s wife, played by Natalie Portman, and her children. However, when Sam unexpectedly returns home, the entire family is at risk of being destroyed.
7. Thank You For Your Service (2017)
Thank You For Your Service is a movie based on the non-fiction novel of the same name, and written by Washington Post war correspondent David Finkel. The film follows a group of soldiers returning home from Iraq who struggle to reenter family and civilian life in the United States, while still coping with the trauma of war and the related PTSD it caused.
8. Ordinary People (1980)
After the death of his older brother in a sailing accident, Conrad Jarrett, played by Timothy Hutton, attempts suicide and is checked into a psychiatric hospital in the film, Ordinary People. On his release from the hospital, Conrad finds his mother, played by Mary Tyler Moore, to be cold, distant, and angry. His father, played by Donald Sutherland, is also still emotionally traumatized by the death of his oldest son. Conrad tries to deal with his past trauma by seeing a psychiatrist, played by Judd Hirsch. As the first movie directed by Robert Redford, the film swept both the Academy and Golden Globe Awards.
9. Taxi Driver (1976)
Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film Taxi Driver is set in post-Vietnam War New York, a city gripped by moral and physical decay. Robert De Niro stars as Travis Bickle, a veteran and now taxi driver with a deteriorating mental state who works nights in the city. As the movie unfolds, Bickle grows unhealthily compelled to clean up the city and turns his obsessions toward a 12-year-old prostitute played by Jodie Foster. The film garnered several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
More Movies About PTSD
There is no shortage of films and movies about PTSD and the above list offers some of the best ones that are fan favorites about the topic shown from different perspectives.
Here are 10 more movies about PTSD listed from earliest to most recent.
- Coming Home (1978)
- First Blood (1982)
- Birdy (1984)
- Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
- The Fisher King (1991)
- Saving Private Ryan (1998)
- Mystic River (2003)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
- Iron Man 3 (2013)
- I, Tonya (2018)
Hopefully these movies about post-traumatic stress disorder can shed some light into the struggles people have with this mental health condition during PTSD Awareness Month in June.